Game Week Insider: Alabama coach helps Clemson land Etienne, Louisville and more


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Travis Etienne had 113 yards against Boston College Saturday
Travis Etienne had 113 yards against Boston College Saturday

I have to be honest, I am a little bit excited about the trip to Blacksburg this weekend. Sure, the cooler weather that’s in the forecast has a lot to do with it, but I can’t wait for kickoff in Lane Stadium.

I see a lot of similarities between this game and the one at Louisville two weeks ago, but I think this one will be closer. I spoke to a couple of people in the program before the game against the Cardinals, and there was a feeling that unless Clemson turned it over several times they would win in somewhat dominant fashion.

Before Boston College, I was told – and didn’t listen – that they expected the Eagles to keep it close into the third quarter and then the lack of depth would wear them down. This week, I am hearing from the inside that Virginia Tech is more of a complete “team” than Louisville and that they are much better-coached.

We knew going in that Louisville was prone to penalties and mistakes, and a quick look at the stats today reveals that they’ve committed 30 penalties in the season’s first four games, which ranks them in the lower half in the country. Clemson and Virginia Tech both sit near the top – the Hokies have been called for 16 penalties while Clemson has been called for 18.

That, and the road environment tells me that Saturday night should be fun to watch.

*Of course, one of the things we will be watching is the increased workload of freshman running back Travis Etienne. The recruitment of Etienne is something that popped up on our radar late last season, and many have wondered how Clemson could get a talent like Etienne out of Louisiana and away from LSU.

Two words – Elliott and Burns.

Elliott is Clemson’s running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator, and I’ve been told that Elliott outworked LSU down the stretch. LSU simply didn’t see a scenario where they would lose Etienne to someone out of state, and Etienne’s family found Elliott refreshing.

However, the Tigers had a little help from a former Clemson coach – current Alabama coach Burton Burns. Once Cordarrian Richardson decommited from the Tigers, Burns raved about Etienne and Clemson stepped up its recruitment.

*Two of the best defensive coordinators in the business will be front and center Saturday night. Tech’s Bud Foster and Clemson’s Brent Venables are both at the top of their profession, and while both have been considered for head coaching opportunities, both remain in a coordinator’s post and appear happy to be there.

I had to go back and look at the record, but what I saw didn’t surprise me. Clemson is 64-9 since Venables took over after the 2011 season. Clemson has had an amazing run of success since that loss to West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, and Venables has been a big part of that.

I get asked by other media folks about Venables taking a head coaching gig, and there are always rumors that he is simply waiting for Bill Snyder to retire at Kansas St. so he can take over there. But I’ve been around Venables on and off the football field, and this is a man who is comfortable and happy right where he is. It’s why, unlike other coordinators who come in looking for that next job, he’s never really had to fight job rumors.

Over the last three weeks, during our interview sessions, he’s made it plain that he lives to coach defense on college football Saturdays. Someone asked him yesterday about get-back coach Adam Smotherman, and he didn’t have a lot to say about their sideline interaction. It’s obvious that he gets into “the zone” during a game and doesn’t remember very much that happens on the sideline.

He’s a man in his element, and being a head coach would take him out of that element.

*I will end with a few quick thoughts on the news that dominates the headlines today – Louisville and college basketball in general.

A mere 11 days ago, I talked to a Louisville fan who was genuinely excited about the state of his program. I ran into him in the lobby of the Galt House, and he was excited that GameDay was making another appearance, and he was hoping that the Cardinals could knock off Clemson and regain national relevance.

We spoke for a few minutes about football, baseball, and basketball, and it was obvious how much he cares about Cardinal athletics. The Cardinals were blasted by Clemson in football – some obvious holes were exposed – and now basketball faces an uncertain future.

That made me realize that success in college athletics needs to be cherished. And I don’t take any sort of delight in some other school’s misery because it’s the fans who always pay the biggest price. The Louisville fan was extremely nice and respectful and now his basketball program is in tatters because of the selfish decisions made by others.

Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich will walk away and they will still be rich men. The common fans, the ones who pay exorbitant prices to be a part of the success of the program, are the ones left holding the proverbial bag, and that’s a shame.


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